The dinosaurs were everywhere. They bookended records, sat on high shelves and abuttedrecord players and plants, artwork and T-shirts. AJ Pacheco was glad not to be asked about them, although he voluntarily talked about them as my eyes scanned the room. “I just love dinosaurs,” he shrugged. With long, curly hair and a wispy “Weird” Al Yancovic style mustache, the bespectacled Pacheco has an animated, youthful bearing.
Pacheco and his partner Tanya Gorbunova have made Pancakes Records their own. From the dinos to the back room that doubles up as a performance space, their new record store in North Astoria, Queens, reflects their shared interests and their philosophy. “So far we’ve had multiple events with different musicians in the area,” Pacheco said, “I have some friends that do the comedy circuit or do drag that we’re looking to try to make a standup night or a drag show. We could have friends that have tiny businesses come and do a pop up here.”
This sense of community and building common spaces comes from Pacheco’s background in theater and music. Originally from Long Beach, California, he moved the Ophelia Theater Company that he co-founded to New York City, over 12 years ago. Around 20 of his friends in the company followed him over the next few years, operating the company out of the Boys and Girls club in Queens. To supplement his income, he started working as a server at restaurants and finally landed a gig at HiFi Records, once an Astoria staple for record collectors.
Pacheco worked there for eight years until the shop closed in January of this year. “The rent was a little high and the owner ended up having to move his family back home to Puerto Rico,” shared Pacheco, adding that HiFi could have been more of a community space to allow for more footfall.
A lifelong love for records pushed Pacheco and Gorbunova to pursue a new dream — opening their own store. They managed to do this in a few short months with a lot of help from their friends and family. “I swallowed all of my fears,” said Pacheco, “I had a lot of support — countless hours of friends helping me paint, build the store and clean records. My dad built all the shelves back in Colorado where they live now, and he drove them out here in a U-Haul.” His mother, who is an artist, designed the logo for the store and Pancakes Records slowly came to life, opening its doors on July 22.
The name itself has its roots in some Pacheco lore, back from his college days when he and a group of friends would listen to records. “We called ourselves the Record Sitters Club, and we would get together, grab a case of beer and play stacks of records that looked like pancakes. If it was a really good album we would keep flipping it. For some reason we started saying ‘pancake it’.” Gorbunova recollected that tale and made a suggestion when they were searching for a name and it stuck.
“Opening day was better than I could have ever imagined. Around 25-30% of the entire stock was sold,” said Pacheco. The advantage of taking over where HiFi left off, meant that Pancakes Records had an existing customer base on the lookout for a new store. There were still challenges like finding new sources for records to ensure that the shelves were properly stocked. “It came from doing a lot of legwork of talking to different people in the community,” shared Pacheco, “Going to Craigslist, going to estate sales and garage sales in my neighborhood, taking drives out to Long Island City.” He has also been reaching out to smaller record labels directly. He says they are keen to build relationships rather than focus on profits, something that allies with the Pancakes philosophy.
Pacheco is clear that he doesn’t harbor a need to have a vinyl empire. “When I opened, I had a very limited budget,” he said, “This is my first business and hopefully this will be my last. I want this tiny little store and I want it to be a part of my community where I live now, where I don’t plan on leaving.”
“There’s just something about the tactile nature of getting to hold your art, the liner notes, and that just opens up so many new avenues for discovering music. The sound quality just spoke to me more,” he said, adding that he discovered his deep love for records growing up around his parents who had a collection. Even with the recent return of vinyl as a preferred way to listen to music for audiophiles, it’s a business that needs a lot of love. “What’s beautiful about vinyl is that if you take care of it, it can last a 100 years,” said Pacheco.
The atmosphere at Pancakes is very convivial and wholesome, almost familial. Pacheco is quick to point out that they don’t run a typical business looking for sales. There’s a sense of authenticity and vulnerability when Pacheco shares that his real need is not to have imposter syndrome about starting a business, even one he understands so well. Beyond the mental aspect he says he just wants people to come in and say hi. “I don’t need people to come in just to buy a thing,” he said, “I like when people just want to come in and see what we’re listening to and want to spend a minute. Grabbing a chair and a random used record off the shelf and putting it on the listening station, that’s it.”
You can learn more about Pancakes Records on their instagram page or visiting their store at 20-77 Steinway St, Queens, NY 11105. You can also call them on (718) 233-8666.
They buy and sell vinyl and vinyl accessories. They are open everyday except Tuesday from 12-8pm and on Sunday from 12-6pm.